Finally, Malays standing up for rationality and discourse

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IT might be a little, but not too late, to finally see some prominent Malays speak up against the national discourse on race and religion that has been going pear-shaped recently.

Twenty-five of them, retired top civil servants and personalities that helped take Malaysia to punch above its weight-class in the 1990s and early 2000s, sent an open letter last night to ask moderate Malaysians to stand up and be counted.

"Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position," Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, former Malaysian ambassador to the Netherlands, said in a statement issued on behalf of the 25 signatories last night.

In their 19-paragraph statement, they succinctly described the need for a rational dialogue, spoke out against minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom's comments on a recent transgender case, and importantly, told Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to provide leadership.

Malaysians have to laud them for their stand, for their candour, and their courage to speak their mind. But it will take more than 25 Malaysians who have seen the world in their time to ensure shrill voices do not dominate the national discourse.

"It is high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out. Extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices as represented by Perkasa and Isma do not speak in our name," said the 25 in an open letter sent to all Malaysian media.

"Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position and urge for an informed and rational dialogue on the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in Malaysia.

"More importantly, we call on the prime minister to exercise his leadership and political will to establish an inclusive consultative committee to find solutions to these intractable problems that have been allowed to fester for too long.

"We also urge more moderate Malaysians to speak up and contribute to a better informed and rational public discussion on the place of Islamic laws within a constitutional democracy and the urgency to address the breakdown of federal-state division of powers and finding solutions to the heart-wrenching stories of lives and relationships damaged and put in limbo because of battles over turf and identity," they added.

This battle over turf and identity has raged since Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) began losing power after the 2008 general elections. The loss of political power has led some parties to court and allow the far-right fringe to dominate the national discourse for the sake of keeping power.

The greater irony is that Malaysia is the country that has been promoting the idea of moderation at the international stage but yet, in our home, we let a few people to hijack policies and sideline the rational voices.

The reality is that this creeping narrow and parochial view of the world has turned into a march under the watch of a government distracted about keeping power. And it will take more than one open letter to change anything.

"These issues of concern we raise are, of course, difficult matters to address given the extreme politicisation of race and religion in this country.

"But we believe there is a real need for a consultative process that will bring together experts in various fields, including Islamic and constitutional laws, and those affected by the application of Islamic laws in adverse ways," said the 25.

They are right. And the reality is this consultative process needs more from the Malay Muslims as they form the majority in the country.

If they stay silent, the vociferous few will dominate and take the country further to the right.

So right now, more Malaysians need to step up and speak up against the few who want a Malaysia far removed from the dreams of its founding fathers.

Right now, more people must support the 25 who include among them Tan Sri Datuk Abdul Rahim Haji Din, former secretary-general of the home affairs ministry; Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar, former secretary-general, foreign ministry; Tan Sri Dr Aris Othman, former secretary-general, finance ministry; Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican; former director-general, health ministry; Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, former secretary-general, finance ministry; Tan Sri Dr Mustaffa Babjee, former director-general, Veterinary Services Department; and Hendon Mohamad, former president of the Malaysian Bar.

Right now, we need a government that will stand up for Malaysians, and if not, they should step aside for those who will. – The Malaysian Insider